Archive | 5:34 AM

The Road Less Travelled

22 Jun

The views from Cortona are as wide and deep as the eye can see. From almost any point around the city walls, you need only to look out to see the scenes that painters and photographers try but fail to capture. Not that their art is poor; on the contrary. It is just that the manicured hills and valleys are so colorful and alive that static art never quite seems to do it justice.









When you study the hills and valleys, you notice they are made up of tiny towns, lone houses, working farms, well-tended vineyards, olive groves, and miles and miles of winding roads. Who lives there? What kind of life do the people have? How connected are they with each other, the nearest city, or the country they live in?

Homes scattered throughout













We decided to spend the day exploring. With no destination in mind, we drove to the top of Cortona and headed northeast.


SDL photo

The paved road unfolded before us like a loosely coiled snake. We followed it higher and higher into the blue sky, curling around the  hills that were painted with yellow and red flowers, always  marveling at the slide show nature was providing.


BNG photo

With cameras in hand, Benita and Sarah could ask us to stop whenever they wanted, and as long as I could pull over. Nature was their focus; the vistas were mine. Stopping for me was also great because as the driver, “eyes on the road” needed to be my constant mantra!


Occasionally we came across a few tiny towns, clusters of a dozen or so homes. Often, however, we would encounter a lone farmhouse, a few cows, but never any people.

SDL photo

SDL photo

After quite a long ride uphill, we began to descend. We assumed we would eventually be low enough to find a directional sign or city, but as soon as we reached the valley, the road carried us up the next hill.

Olive groves (SDL photo)

We were surprised by the quality of the roads and the stone bridges and guardrails, as we rarely encountered another vehicle. Besides farming, the only other visible business appears to be the agriturismos or farm houses that offer food and dwelling to tourists, none of whom were visible on our journey.

SDL Photo

BNG photo


After several ascents and descents, and several hours of exploring, we came to a crossroad. Right or left? Two cities listed, only one on the map that Len was now reading.  We headed toward Mercatale as it seemed the circuitous route to Cortona. After about three minutes, the road turned to gravel. Hmmm. Sure hope we don’t get a flat!

BNG photo

Fifteen minutes into the drive, with the road getting progressively rougher, we saw a lovely farm and two elderly people in the yard with their tiny dog. The lady was tending to her flowers and I stopped and asked for directions. Yes, we were going the right way, she confirmed in Italian as she smiled. Follow the road up  the next hill and back down through another valley and we would eventually get to Mercatale and the road that would take us home.

I realized as we pulled away that the kind lady did much more than give us directions. She unknowingly answered my questions about life in the hills. I could see in her warm smile and sparkling eyes that she was enjoying life to the fullest. Uncomplicated, unstressed.  She was surrounded by the gifts nature provides, not the noise of the city or the challenges of the economy. She worked with her hands and her heart, and she was happy. I only wish I had taken her picture.

When we returned to Cortona, and looked out at the hills through the setting sun, we saw them from a new perspective. The hills and valleys, the winding roads…they were more familiar now. Although we were only part of them for a day, we were no longer strangers or observers from afar. It’s not often that we take the time to follow the road less travelled, but for Len, Benita, Sarah and me, the day will be one we will always remember.



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